Walled States, Waning Sovereignty

Glen Newey writes:

Politics begins with walls, and death. Uruk sprang from the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia in the fifth millennium BC, its walls founded, according to legend, by Gilgamesh. In the epic he leaves the city with his enantiomorph Enkidu, a wild man snared in a honey-trap by the holy harlot Shamhat and thereby civilised. The gods – who, unusually for an epic, seem to vote Democrat – created Enkidu for a political purpose, to distract Gilgamesh from tyrannising Uruk’s citizens. At the poem’s end, with Enkidu dead, Gilgamesh, having lost the immortality-conferring boxthorn he snatched from the ocean bed, returns to Uruk. The final tablet closes with him praising the Urukian walls as he docks at the city’s staith on the Euphrates, in a paean to living in the here and now. Denied the means of cheating death, his end is the clay, the baked brick, of his beginning.

(LRB 17 March 2011)

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